Architect Engineers Value into Projects

Luxury housing, even in New York CIty, can be designed and completed within a realistic construction budget, says architect Marvin Meltzer By Keat Foong, Executive Editor”More expensive” does not equal “better design,” says Marvin Meltzer, principal of Meltzer/Mandl Architects, P.C. (M2).  “You do not need expensive materials to make the project look great. It doesn’t reflect on me as an architect.”Though it is focused on New York City, one of the marks of Marvin Meltzer’s firm  is that it has designed all types of housing—from homeless housing to high-end luxury, from low-rises to high-rises, from woodframe stick construction to poured-in-place concrete, from ground-up new construction to complex adaptive reuse. Meltzer is now the sole partner of M2 after his partner David Mandl passed away last August. The firm today has 33 architects. Meltzer has designed and/or developed more than 10,000 units of residential housing, including luxury, affordable and special needs housing, in addition to childcare, educational and community facilities and commercial projects.Recent projects have brought Meltzer to many of the newly gentrified and fashionable neighborhoods of Brooklyn such as Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Fort Greene and Carroll Gardens. In terms of their locations, these projects seem to be in the same mold as the adaptive reuse project Meltzer designed in the mid-1990s on Wall Street. That project pioneered residential living in the then-recently-rezoned financial district. “We love being out on the edge, designing in communities on the edge. It becomes a question of what we bring to the community to set a new vocabulary,” says Meltzer. Through the years, M2 may have undertaken projects diverse in the income levels they serve, their building types and construction methods, but the firm’s approach is the same. “When I was in the development business in the 1980s, I said to myself, ‘What do I bring to the table as an architect that gives me an edge in doing luxury housing?’ Looking around New York, I knew it had to do with not costing more than your competitors,” says Meltzer.Perhaps one of the reasons M2 is successful as an architectural firm is because it stays practical—staying close to budget and knowledgeable about building construction and local  regulations. “What we love about New York is that its zoning and code issues are very complex. To figure out how use that to the benefits of our clients is a key to our business,” says Meltzer. Just as importantly for developers, Meltzer is not an architect who requires an extravagant budget or incurs cost overruns. Luxury housing in New York CIty can be designed and completed within a realistic construction budget, he says. “When the luxury housing market died at the end of the 1980s, there was not one crane in New York City,” he says. “There was an entire article about that. When that ended, we did homeless housing for non-profits, and I realized that nothing has really changed. I can do in affordable housing what I did in luxury housing.”According to Meltzer, the firm has created a palette of cost-effective materials. “One of the skills of an architect is to be able to take simple materials and use then better than the person next door without spending more money,” he says. M2 stresses the creative use of what Meltzer says are “straight forward” materials. For example, “simple ceramic tile,” when handled well, can look great, and stone is not needed. And nothing can be simpler and more cost effective to build than through-wall air conditioning system.  Another material Meltzer likes to utilize is lightweight prefabricated aluminum panels, which gives a building an aura of being expensive without being so. The material “looks great,” allows for great exterior design flexibility, shortens constriction time, and weighs less therefore requires less foundation. It costs maybe about $15 per sq. ft. less in foundation compared to brick-and-block construction, he says. “We evaluate how far we can go within the budget and what we can put in without extending limits,” says Meltzer. “We do not want to have to redesign projects. We are not going to do a $220 [per sq. ft.] project knowing it needs $300 [per sq. ft.] because it will need to be redesigned. Ours is an architecture of addition rather than deletion. As a result, we get most of [what we planned] built.” Meltzer, who incidentally celebrated his 70th birthday this year, has put his experience to good use in his career, and the numerous awards he has achieved attests in part to his success. In 2002, Meltzer was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award for “an illustrious career that has added to the betterment of Architecture in New York City. Design prizes his firm has received include ones from the American Institute of Architects, the National Association of Home Builders (for Melrose Court in the Bronx, New York), and the New York and national chapters of SARA (for 57 Bond Street, in New York City’s Lower East Side). Located in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, M2’s recently completed projects include the 16-story Senior Living Options on Third Avenue, New York; Malcolm Shabazz Development on 15 West 116th Street; 130-136 West 112th Street in New York; and the 11-story 1090 Franklin Avenue in the Bronx. The scores of projects M2 designed that are still under development include Clermont Greene, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn; the mid-rise Gold Street Development in Lower Manhattan; the low-rise Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; and the 12-story high-rise hotel and residential condominium The Smith in Brooklyn.